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Musharraf’s trial, a test of Nawaz Sharif’s sincerity

Mansoor Jafar

Published: Updated:

The honeymoon period of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s third stint in power was not yet over last week when he created quite a stir in political atmosphere announcing that he would try former military dictator General [retired] Pervez Musharraf for “treason” and “subversion of the constitution.”

Addressing the parliament, Nawaz Sharif said: “General [retired] Musharraf would be tried for dissolving the Supreme Court on November 3, 2007, arresting all judges and subjecting them to torture after the chief justice refused to carry out his illegal demands. He [Musharraf] will be tried under Article 6 of the constitution which carry death sentence.”

General Musharraf was considered responsible for the Kargil War with India which created bad blood between him and the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who finally dismissed him [Musharraf] on October 12, 1999 while he was visiting Sri Lanka. Sharif ordered replacing Musharraf with a junior General and refused to allow his plane to land in Karachi, but his fellow generals acted swiftly, toppling his government while he was still on the plane. He declared martial law after landing and later got Nawaz Sharif sentenced to death for hijacking his plane. The sentence was pardoned as part of a Riyadh-brokered deal that released Nawaz Sharif and sent him to a five-star luxury exile in Jeddah.

Nawaz Sharif gets mixed response

What has stunned the nation is the fact that Nawaz Sharif is refraining from trying General Musharraf for subverting the constitution by throwing away an elected government and imposing military rule. He is just trying Musharraf for the crimes against the judiciary, committed eight years after he had been an illegal ruler of the country.

Letting Musharraf off the hook for his biggest crime would allow all previous generals who had imposed martial law three times before him to go scot-free.

Mansoor Jafar

Nawaz Sharif got mixed response for the move. The majority praised him for taking a historic step that will protect democracy from future military adventurers. Workers and supporters of his party were joyous, since Nawaz had vowed in his election campaign to hold General Musharraf accountable for treason and subversion of constitution.

But, letting Musharraf off the hook for his biggest crime would allow all previous generals who had imposed martial law three times before him go scot-free along with their abettors and supporters who supported military regimes for sharing illegal power. Similarly, it will also facilitate the superior judiciary which had always justified the military rule by citing infamous “doctrine of necessity.” This move will also exonerate all the politicians including Nawaz Sharif himself, who had been playing sidekicks to military dictators and rode into the political arena sitting on their laps.

I support those who believe that this half-cooked treason trial for a military dictator who has been the chief facilitator of U.S.-led NATO forces in Afghanistan is an eyewash to pre-empt the masses’ anger against the recent budget, carrying tougher taxes for common people already crushed under heavy taxation. Nawaz Sharif presented his first budget with increased indirect taxes on the common man and reducing subsidies on power and food. This is exactly against his electoral promises and already earned him public wrath within five weeks in the office which the PPP-led regime took many years to earn.

With this smart move, Nawaz Sharif has tried to kill many birds with one stone. This compromised treason trial will soothe party workers who had been demanding death to Musharraf for overthrowing the second government of Nawaz Sharif. It will not drag all previous military-dictator generals into the dock for posthumous hanging like the British parliament awarded to General Oliver Cromwell. Thus it will pre-empt another likely military coup against Nawaz Sharif, who is notorious for stubborn confrontations with military and civil establishments in his past which caused premature end to his two governments. And most importantly, it will not create any bad blood with his relations with the U.S. and UK at the beginning of his third and probably the last innings in the government.

For trying an accused for treason under Article 6 of the constitution, the government will have to empower the secretary ministry of interior to formally prosecute against the accused before a special court to be established by the government comprising three senior judges of the High Court. Legal experts say the sincerity of Nawaz’s government in prosecuting General Musharraf would become clear if it failed to constitute the special court in time to start the trial.

Keeping quiet

So far, the military generals have preferred to keep quiet on the imminent legal retribution of their former boss. However, their role is believed to be active in providing General Musharraf a VIP sentence in his magnificent farm house protected by his private guards in the outskirts of Islamabad, where he is enjoying all sorts of luxuries of life, meeting U.S. senators and all guests. But the investigators probing his role in assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto were refused entry by his guards.

Field Marshal Ayub Khan [late] was the first military dictator who abrogated the newly enforced constitution in 1958 and laid the foundations of future military dictatorships. General Yahya Khan was the second who grabbed power on the pretext of unrest and caused the country to dismember. Third was religious minded General Zia-ul-Haq who called the constitution a piece of paper, and allowed institutionalized intervention of army in all spheres of life.

The fourth dictator, General Pervez Musharraf, trampled not only the law but also crossed all limits of morality and decency, putting every state institution under his feet, mercilessly killing thousands of Islamists, selling them off to the CIA, and incinerating hundreds of unarmed girl students with phosphorus bombs. The movement against his illegal rule was joined in by all sections of society including lawyers, intellectuals, religious scholars, journalists, civil society etc.

The Pakistani nation believes in democracy and rule of law, and has been rendering huge sacrifices for the sake of those causes. The recent struggle spanning over the last few years has given an independent judiciary to the nation. Punishing a military dictator has always been an elusive dream of the nation which had spent sixty percent of its history under military dictatorships. Realizing this dream could put the country back on the road to the rule of law. Yet, maneuvering of law and selective prosecution would keep the nation further deprived of this dream. This trial is the test of Nawaz Sharif’s sincerity with the nation and its future.

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Mansoor Jafar is Editor of Al Arabiya Urdu based at Islamabad. He can be reached through Twitter: @mansoorjafar

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.